I’m thrilled to present my latest Insider Guide. This time, compliments of my friend Lauren Benet Stephenson (pictured brunching at Selmat Pagi), a former fashion reporter turned blogger, copywriter and all around social media queen, who fills us in on her favorite spots in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a Polish neighborhood turned hip. Think the more-neighborhood-y and less-tourist-y version of Williamsburg.
True to every rom-com cliché, Greenpoint and I first fell in love during my rebound from a previous break-up. I was on the hunt. I needed a neighborhood that had new haunts—unfettered with ex-boyfriend nostalgia—and a very affordable living space to accommodate a writer’s budget. (One of these was a more daunting assignment than the other.)
A few failed flings with Fort Greene and Williamsburg distracted me for a spell, but ultimately, the laid-back, enthusiastically-gentrifying, Polish charm of Greenpoint took me in, and I’ve yet to look back. (Though, let’s be serious, I can see the Empire State building from my apartment, it’s not like I moved to Kentucky.)
Here, a very biased how-to guide on building your own romance with Greenpoint:
EAT BRUNCH: Selamat Pagi*
Essentially every restaurant in Greenpoint serves brunch—in fact, it’s become a source of a cultural skirmish or two–and they’re all a retreat from the norm in their own, fastidiously homegrown way. But Selamat Pagi wins the prize for the most inventive, most I-have-no-idea-what-this-is-but-give-me-all-of-it type entrees. The masterminds behind Van Leeuwen Arisan Ice Cream are to thank here, and Selamat offers unthinkable Bali-inspired delights: from fried rice with a sunnyside-up egg to banana pancakes to organic eggs sprinkled with coconut oil, shallots, and papaya. And, like many of the other neighborhood gems, everything on the menu is organic, local and sustainable. Plus, this place is impossibly cozy, with hand-carved wood benches, and beautiful lighting that streams through large windows and splashes across the 1930s embellished tin walls.
It’s not often you have the chance to reminisce about days of yore while gorging yourself on donuts. But Peter Pan’s—with its ’50s-era décor and sprightly service—has just that effect. Try out their legendary ice cream sandwich, with two donuts of your choice as the “bread.” It’s a disastrous mess, but worth every sloppy, delectable bite.
SHOP: Fox & Fawn
This unassuming storefront boasts some serious (and seriously cheap) retro treasures. Fox & Fawn is a neighborhood favorite, where you can buy or sell, and the selection of low-priced designer finds is unreal. Like many a thrift store, a great get takes patience, but it only takes one $29.99 limited-edition Stella McCartney pantsuit before you understand the local loyalty.
EAT LUNCH: Five Leaves
This cozy eatery first gained notoriety (and financial backing) on the brawny shoulders of the late Heath Ledger (R.I.P.). But it’s more than held its own as one of the most delicious and forward-thinking spots around. The menu boasts eclectic fare from bacon-wrapped figs and a kill-your-neighbor-for-it-amazing chopped kale caesar salad to an impossibly messy, dreamlike burger topped with a fried pineapple ring. Plus its unique, peninsula-shaped locale—nestled against McCarren Park, on the very border between Williamsburg and Greenpoint—makes it an unparalleled (weird) people-watching spot.
Bonus: The host proudly boasts the longest rattail I can recall seeing since my elementary school days. Dedication pays off, kids.
CHILL: Milk ‘N’ Roses*
Milk ‘N’ Roses is the only café-restaurant-and-bar I’ve been tempted to secretly move into. It has everything a modern aesthete could want: plush leather couches, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, candle centerpieces, embellished-tin walls, a working bar, outdoor seating, and a healthy internet connection. Add to it a regular dose of live music and the occasional poetry reading, and you’ve got my favorite reason to roll out of bed on a Saturday morning and make-like-a-real-writer.
Well you definitely can’t leave the ‘point (no one calls it that, but go with me) without at least a taste of Polish cuisine. As someone weened solely on New Jersey Italian food, I was reluctant, but there really is a lot to love. My favorite spot is Lomznianka because it feels like the linoleum-floored kitchen of your favorite, long-lost Polish grandma. The helpings are generous, delicious, and stomach-filling —think potato pancakes, polish kielbasa, pierogies, and everything pickled— and, I’ve heard, pretty damn authentic.
I’ve saved the best for last with this little piece of Nordic heaven. The newest joint on my list, Torst is pretty much a work of art: fashioned from varying shades of wood, boasting a gleaming marble bar, a trademarked tap system that serves pitch-perfect pours, and gleaming light fixtures that give it all a romantic glow. Suffice it to say, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and I go back for seconds regularly. Though it’s become known as an altar of worship for beer geeks, there’s no reason to hesitate if you’re more of a chard-with-ice type sipper. The bartenders are friendly (and attractive), and will readily explain their tap system (which is color-coded to denote the strength of each beer). I recommend the #7 and the #2, but there’s a lot of highly potent fun to be had in figuring it out yourself.
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